How the Miami Heat provided the blueprint to stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MARCH 22: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball while being guarded by Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat in the first quarter at the Fiserv Forum on March 22, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MARCH 22: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball while being guarded by Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat in the first quarter at the Fiserv Forum on March 22, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Just days before Christmas, the Miami Heat drew up the blueprint to stopping Milwaukee Bucks’ superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Here’s what the rest of the NBA can take from that game.

On Sunday afternoon, Milwaukee Bucks fans were in for a treat. Something they haven’t experienced as a fan base in eighteen years. That day ended an eighteen-year absence from the second round of the NBA playoffs. To crown the momentous occasion, Mother Nature blessed the city with snowfall the day prior (something Miami Heat fans are unaccustomed to).

The snow had fallen, the newly built Fiserv Forum was ready, the visiting Boston Celtics had arrived. One might venture to say that boasting the highest regular season record in the league, and the Bucks are prepared for this fight. As it turns out, anything you bury along the way to great success will come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Unbeknownst to them, no one in the gym prepared to see the Bucks’ skeletons except Boston. Milwaukee needed only to look at one regular-season matchup in preparation for Sunday’s matchup against the sixth-best defensive team in the league.

December 22nd, 2018

In this matchup in Miami, the Heat laid down the blueprint the Celtics needed to game plan for Giannis Antetokounmpo. In this playoff scenario, the Celtics won’t be as lucky as the Heat were when it comes to their opponent’s schedule. Before the game in Miami, the Bucks visited the Celtics and handed them their thirteenth loss of the season and hopped on the first flight to South Beach. The team arrived just two-and-a-half hours before sunrise at 4:30 AM then were expected to play professional basketball later that evening.

That night the Miami Heat were able to hold Antetokounmpo to 9 points, 13 rebounds, and his worst shooting performance of the season on 4-of-12 shooting for 25 percent from the field.

The hypothesis coach Erik Spoelstra tested that night: Stop Antetokounmpo in transition, and the entire Bucks offense grinds to a halt. Here’s how they accomplished this.


What’s the difference between 12-year veteran Al Horford and sophomore Bam Adebayo? Ten pounds. That’s it. Both centers are listed at the same height of 6’10” with Adebayo at 255 lbs and Horford 245. Another difference that can be seen in their gameplay is that Adebayo is a lot more agile on the defensive end and thus able to keep up with Antetokounmpo if he were to decide to become more aggressive.

For Boston, they had one shot at this with Horford assigned to be his primary defender. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, had options and could split the defensive assignment between Adebayo and 6’8” 240lb James Johnson. Whenever there is a tough matchup like this head coach Erik Spoelstra tried his best to start Johnson and have him draw the toughest frontcourt matchup on defense. This game was no different as he started the game on Antetokounmpo waiting to show why he’s the man for the job.

Before we discuss the Greek Freak’s Kryptonite, let’s discuss his bread and butter. In transition, he’s often found either grabbing the ball off the rim and initiating the break or receiving the ball just at half-court after ramping up speed on his way from the back-court. The Miami Heat were dead set on not allowing Antetokounmpo a free run to the rim mostly likely collecting fouls along the way. To combat this, the Heat looked to build a wall of three players with outstretched hands every time down. This strategy worked well to crowd Antetokounmpo in hopes he’d pick up his dribble, discourage him from driving left, right, or through the middle, and to clog the passing lanes.

Some examples of this wall treatment include a double team from Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk. In this situation, Antetokounmpo saw he could still make his way to the basket since there were only two Heat defenders present, but when he finally got to the promised, an air-balled layup was the result. A similar incident occurred later in the game where Richardson and Tyler Johnson executed a double team at the free throw line. Antetokounmpo stopped and looked for his first pass through crowded vision and selected Eric Bledsoe. The result was a missed 3-pointer.

By the start of the third quarter, the mental damage had already been done. Finally, the Bucks saw what they were looking for after a defensive rebound: A one-on-one matchup and the ball in Antetokounmpo‘s hands. James Johnson swiftly realized his help wasn’t ready yet so he picked Antetokounmpo up at half court. Afraid or unsure of what he could do next since this caught him off guard, he quickly passed the ball to Bledsoe who was then blocked by Hassan Whiteside at the rim.

Now that the Bucks initial offensive strategy was brought to a screeching halt with Antetokounmpo unable to make things go in transition, it was time to expose another issue in their game plan. The Milwaukee Bucks do not have many plays outside of Antetokounmpo led fast breaks and guard pick and Rolls with Antetokounmpo as the screener. This was highly exposed in the half court by the Miami Heat.

Heat defenders were more than OK to help off of everyone to crowd Antetokounmpo even if that meant leaving Bledsoe or soon to be all-star Khris Middleton open on the perimeter. Even when Whiteside was on the court, the Heat went way under on screens set by Antetokounmpo which led to many forced shots by other players or the offense dying once the ball was reversed back to him due to his lack of consistent jump-shooting. If you think this coverage sounds familiar, ask a Sixers fan, and they’ll confirm it for you as they’ve seen this happen way too often with Ben Simmons on the floor.

There were a few instances where the Bucks decided to take the ball out of Antetokounmpo‘s hands in the half court, but they didn’t work out. As each Heat defender was told to sag down towards the paint, it put them in prime position to break up a few lob attempts, and they did just that.

Since setting screens wasn’t working, the Bucks decided to get Antetokounmpo going by feeding him in the low post. The Heat countered by fronting him in the post to deny the entry pass. If a pass did get through to him, they made sure that either Adebayo or Johnson were guarding him. They played straight up defense without fouling and were prepared to live with the results.

There was one time where the Bucks almost broke this defensive scheme where they caught Dwyane Wade all alone guarding Antetokounmpo on the left block, Richardson and Adebayo quickly realized the trouble he was in and began to stunt at Antetokounmpo from the strong side corner and the paint. He panicked and zipped the ball to a cutting George Hill in the paint, and the pass was tipped by Adebayo, this ending the possession.

There was a time where Antetokounmpo even tried to take Adebayo one-on-one at the free throw line in space. Adebayo played perfect defense and forced Antetokounmpo into a Dirk Nowitzki-esque fade-away that bricked.

Here’s when I knew the Bucks were cooked even though the score was close. Twice Antetokounmpo attempted an iso to get past his man or create for others, and twice the result was an airball. First, he sized up James Johnson in the short corner and took a midrange jump shot off the dribble. Next, he set a ball screen for Brook Lopez and popped to the 3-point line. He couldn’t get past Johnson again, so he kicked it back to Lopez who promptly air-balled his 3-pointer.

Not only did Antetokounmpo have his worst shooting night of the season, the Bucks as a unit had their fifth worst 3-point shooting performance (9-of-43) and their third-worst performance from the field (36.9 percent) for the season. The Celtics didn’t have a James Johnson to tag team with Al Horford, but they got the job done using these same concepts. Aron Baynes did his best to keep up and contain Antetokounmpo when he had to but although he’s only listed as five pounds heavier than Adebayo he’s a much slower defender who can’t afford to soak up fouls guarding perimeter players when the paint needs protecting as well.

Next. 3 things BAM can learn from Giannis this summer. dark

If only the Miami Heat had the offensive weapons the Celtics do, they would’ve broken 100 points while still holding the Bucks down to 87.